Restore, revive, replenish…

There is wonderful prayer from Eugene Peterson, to pray at the start of today. It is based upon Psalm 126:6

“those that go out weeping,

bearing the seed for sowing,

shall come home with shouts of joy,

carrying their sheaves.”

 

Prayer: Let the rain of your Spirit fall on the dry soil of my heart, O God. Bring to blossom the seeds which have been dormant in my desert body. Restore, revive, replenish so that I may be a harvest field of “shouts of joy” for Jesus’ sake. Amen

Blessed

“God wills our happiness. He blesses. There is no question about that. He also graciously describes the kind of life that is able to receive and live out the blessings that he wills. He does not say, “I want you to be happy, but how to be happy is your business to discover by trail and error the best you can. Good luck!” Not at all. He gives a precise description.
The Poor in spirit: We empty ourselves of pride so we can be filled with God’s spirit.
Those who mourn: We share the sufferings of others rather than avoid them.
The meek: We hone our passions to a skilled gentleness.
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: We reject the appetites of a consumer society and cultivate deep personal relationships with God and others.
The merciful: We refuse to react to the wrongs and troubles in the world by condemning and blaming, but instead we involve ourselves in compassionate serving.
The pure in heart: We don’t allow ourselves to be distracted and dissipated in gossip and trivia, but we center ourselves in God.
The Peacemakers: We decide to look at others, whatever their position, whoever they are, not as rivals to beat out but as brothers and sisters to love into wholeness.
The persecuted: We reject the comfortable conformism of fitting into whatever the majority is doing, and we take instead the nonconforming narrow way of living out the difficult truths requiring love and grace.”

Twisted Lips: the love of God displayed

The following are some of the most evocative words I’ve read in a long time. Read them slowly and allow your imagination the space to fill in the full colour and intensity:

 

“In his book Mortal Lessons, by Richard Selzer, MD, writes:

I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be thus from now on. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I  had to cut the little nerve.

Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily? The young woman speaks.

“Will my mouth always be like this?” She asks.

“Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.”

She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles.

“I like it,” he says, “It is kind of cute.”

All at once I know who he is. I understand and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mount and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works.

 

Since reading this passage, the image of the husband contorting his mouth and twisting his lips for an intimate kiss with his palsied wife haunted me. Yet something eluded me until, one day in prayer, it exploded anew in my memory of the violence on a hill outside the city wall of old Jerusalem. The mangled body of the Son hangs exposed to the world’s derision. He is a blasphemer of God and a seducer of the people. Let Him die in disgrace. His friends are scattered, His honor broken, His name a laughingstock. He has been forsaken by His God. Left absolutely alone. Drive Him out of the holy city and across the tracks where His kind belong. The ragamuffin Christ is roughly handled, rushed around, scourged and spat upon, murdered and buried among His own ilk…”

A Prayer

“[Thank you Lord], for Your lips twisted in love to accommodate my sinful self; for judging me not by my shabby good deeds but by Your love that is Your gift to me; for Your unbearable forgiveness and infinite patience with me; for other people who greater gifts than mine; and for the honesty to acknowledge that I am a ragamuffin. When the final curtain falls and You summon me home, may my last whispered word on earth be a wholehearted cry, “[Thanks you Lord]””.

Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

The Mirror & the Cross (Psalm 26)

“Vindicate me, Lord, for I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered. Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness.” verses 1-2
The Psalms have an amazing ability to strip away any form of pretence or religious ‘make up’ that we try to cake ourselves in. Here at the start of Psalm 26, it feels to me, like I’m stood in front of a full length mirror and the sight is not very pretty! What do I mean by that? Well for starters, I certainly can’t pray with confidence for God to Vindicate me… [because] I have led a blameless life”. Come to think of it I don’t think I’ve even led a blaneless day, let alone life! The mirror just keeps on exposing the naked reality of my life, for it says “I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered”… err… nope I’ve faltered and if I’m honest I continue to falter in my trust. Like a cruel group of school kids, peering and jeering as they look over my shoulder at my exposed relality, the Psalm continues; “I have always been mindful of your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness.” Oh how I wish that was true! However, there are just so many moments I can look back on when I did anything and everything but remember the unfailing love of God and as a response lean back into his faithfulness.
So what do I do with this Psalm? Try and avoid it? Whisper the words very quietly hoping that no one, especially God, will hear me? No! This mirror-like work of this Psalm is a good thing! It leads me to some sobering and soaring realities. Firstly, I’m a man desperately in need of a saviour. When I look back at my life, fragility and failing are the constant drumbeat. However, gloriously this Psalm also throws me into the arms of one who has lived a blameless life, who never faltered in his trust of his Heavenly Father, and one who enjoyed and lived in the unfailing love of his father in heaven and who was able to face everything, even the cross, because he relied upon his father’s faithfulness. Yes one who is even greater than King David. His name, if you’d not already guessed, is Jesus.
As these truth settle afresh in my heart, it centers my life back on Jesus. It reminds me that everything that I see in the full length mirror was totally dealt with by him at the cross. My sin-smeared life exchanged for his blameless life. My faithless wonderings replaced by his trust-filled obedience. My spiritual blindness to the love of God replaced by a big neon sign saying loved and chosen before the foundation of the world.

Teach me your way (Psalm 27)

“Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path.” (v11)
Why is this such a provocative statement? Sandwiched in the middle of a Psalm about the Lord rescuing us from terrible and distressing situations, it would be easy for this verse to be replaced with “God, just get me out of here!” However, even in times and seasons of pain, setback, uncertainty and loss, there are things that the Lord is able to teach you. In fact, I would suggest to you that there are things that the Lord is only able to teach you in these unsettling times. However, I want to suggest that it takes a courageous heart to pray “teach me your way, Lord”.
Notice, the second part of this prayer, “lead me in a straight path.” I don’t know about you but when I’m under pressures, facing setbacks or even loss, my life can quite quickly unravel on the inside. I can start to wonder and daydream about a different life, a ‘get out’ plan. However, here in the midst of the distress, and uncertainty, David prays that the Lord would keep him on a straight course.
Lord, today, regardless of the circumstances that I am facing, I want to pray two things. Firstly, would you teach me your ways. I want to know you and your ways more deeply as a result of walking with you today. Secondly, would you keep me from wandering. Would you keep me on the straight path of your plans and your purposes! Amen.

Courage grows in the soil of encounter (Psalm 27)

“One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” Verse 4
There is  a great danger with this Psalm!  It has a number of really familiar phrases that often get dislocated from the broader context and used as evidence to support a certain view of church and church life. However, when these different parts are left hanging together, the picture is truly amazing!
David begins the Psalms with some probing questions, which essentially go like this?  Will God be my light, my salvation and my stronghold and if so, is there anyone I should fear?   Clearly this leads us to the simple answer –  “No”!   However, if your life is anything like mine, it is slightly more complex than just a simple declaration of truth. That truth needs to be lived in the gritty reality of daily life and that’s where David directs our attention to next.
David’s gritty reality of daily life was pretty shocking.  He had the wicked advancing against him with the sole purpose of devouring him!  If that was not bad enough, his enemies have gathered around in such a way that he is besieged on all sides, meaning there is no natural means of escape!  He was scuppered!
David has not yet finished; in fact what he says next is the key to living with great confidence in the wonderful truths of verse 1.   Whilst walking through the battlefields of verse 2-3,  David says “one thing I ask of the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” Here David gives us a life posture (or way of living) which has three aspects to it:
Dwell – not fleeting dashes into a religious building, hoping to curry favour with God for your latest crisis.  No, it’s  a life dwelling with God.  Since moving to Great Yarmouth, I love talking to people who have ‘dwelt’ here their whole lives.  Why? Because they are filled with ‘lived knowledge’ about the place.  Tiny facts that a newcomer like me would miss, suddenly gets revealed.  Why? Because they are people who have made their home here.  David says, even in the midst of crisis and battles, I want to be someone who dwells with my God.  What about you?
Gaze – To gaze upon something is to fix your attention on something to the point where other things ‘fade’ into the background.  David is showing us that to live in the midst of the battle we need to learn how to cultivate a gazing heart upon our God.  This type of gazing will be through reading the Bible, spending time in prayer, having a listening and attentive heart, and learning from others in the church family.  Only when God becomes the central focus of our lives will other things fade into the background, enabling us to live victorious lives.  Are you cultivating a gazing heart?
Seek – This is a deeply relational word, because David says he longs to be able to seek God.  To be a God seeker, we not only need to engage our time (dwell) and attention (gaze), but our whole hearts.  David is showing us that to live in the midst of the battles of life, we need to resist the pull of other things that are trying to win the battle for our heart.  Worry, anxiety and stress are often signs that other things have gained the upper hand in our hearts.  David is saying, that in the midst of all of this onslaught, he wants to give his heart to seeking after God. What about you?
Notice the result of living a dwelling, gazing and seeking life?
“Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me…” (v6a)

A RADICAL CALL TO DISCIPLESHIP

23And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. 24“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. 25“For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? 26“For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” — Luke 9:23–26

So often the radical and shocking nature of taking up your cross gets softened and blunted, eventually meaning little more than a little inconvenience. The following letter written by a 20 year missionary to only be opened on her death seems to refocus and clarify the issue of discipleship:

Open in case of death

Dear Pastor Phil and Pastor Roger,

You should only be opening this in the event of death.

When God calls there are no regrets. I tried to share my heart with you as much as possible, my heart for the nations. I wasn’t called to a place; I was called to Him. To obey was my objective, to suffer was expected, His glory my reward, His glory my reward . . .

The missionary heart:

Cares more than some think is wiseRisks more that some think is safeDreams more than some think is practicalExpects more than some think is possible.

I was called not to comfort or to success but to obedience. . . .

There is no Joy outside of knowing Jesus and serving Him. I love you two and my church family.

In His care,

Salaam, Karen